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Why the fat should not be in the fire on obesity


RTE's 'Operation Transformation' does a tremendous amount of good in raising awareness of overweight and obesity. The ratings speak for themselves and the level of public engagement and participation in their community-based initiatives is impressive and undoubtedly beneficial. The addition of a dietitian and a GP to the expert panel has enhanced significantly the quality of the clinical advice now given to the show's participants.

However, aspects of the show diminish it and may even be counterproductive and harmful. Firstly, interactions with the "leaders" sometimes seem humiliating. There is a pervading sense that a person's moral strength, work ethic, intelligence and overall contribution to society are proportional to how much excess fat they carry. This stigmatises obesity and reinforces negative stereotypes about obese people. A few weeks ago, participants on the show were chastised by a fireman for being harder to rescue than if they were thin. Their fatness was a moral failure, a selfish lack of discipline and self-control and a burden on the fire service and on society. This will undoubtedly have caused distress to some people affected by obesity. Also, the willing acceptance of humiliation as part of a weight loss process by participants who volunteer for the show should not justify that humiliation. Of course, overweight and obese people need to eat healthier and be more physically active, but shouting at them for being too fat just doesn't work.

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